How quick is your draw? 6 ground rules for testing holsters and how these popular brands performed

This month, Law Enforcement Technology tested several popular duty holsters. We picked several brands for evaluation. If readers don’t see their brand, they might want to wait for our test of concealed carry holsters.

The list of testing criteria included a mix of objective and subjective tasks primarily designed to wring the holsters out and communicate our findings. We drew from kneeling and seated positions, doused the interiors and drew from them hundreds of times.

Before taking them to the range, we  practiced with them using a Red Gun, airsoft and a SIRT training pistol. I had to set several ground rules. When individual officers are looking at holster products, they should too.

First, we knew that sometimes holsters don’t give an immediate impression, just a collection of qualities that correspond with the agency’s and users’ training, experience and needs. This rule also applies with the fact that there are different levels of retention and manufacturers have different approaches to these levels. Again, the product must agree with the training, uniform and safety policies of the agency.

Second, the different levels of retention don’t necessarily mean that the draw is faster or slower. Years ago, a higher level of retention generally meant that the officer had to manually overcome each retention device by a separate and distinct motion, and therefore the draw was significantly impeded as the retention of the holster went up. That is, it used to be the higher the security, the slower the draw.

There are different levels of gun retention in a holster. Although there isn’t a consistent standard across the board, each level generally means a device that one must overcome to draw the gun. They are listed as levels: Level 1, Level 2 and Level 3, often designated in Roman numerals. Safariland is generally known for originating this concept after their purchase of the Rogers Holster company.

New designs like Gould & Goodrich’s Triple Retention Duty Holster or the BLACKHAWK! Duty LV3 Serpa Holster epitomize the new designs. They have three retention areas that an assaultive suspect would have to challenge, one at a time. The person wearing the holster, however, can disengage the handgun during the natural draw stroke, even though the manipulations are distinct. The G&G product, in fact, was fast enough for a three-gun match entry.

Third, nothing in the design of anything we tested here should displace sound tactics and defensive training. Let me make this clear. The holster is just one tool of many. The handgun is just the tool in an officer’s hand when the carbine or shotgun is out of reach.

The handgun is a level of force that must be applied appropriately. If the holster does not secure the handgun when another task is employed, it is useless. Yes, there are useless and far fetched holster products out there, and we didn’t (and won’t) test any.

Fourth, the KISS rule applies. If the holster product requires the officer to learn an additional motion or skill that does not agree with sound tactics, pass. That is, if it isn’t natural, it will loose a gunfight.
Fifth, if the holster interferes with the safe operation of the handgun in any way, including the magazine release, safety features or master grip when drawing, it is the wrong holster. Use common sense.

Most new holster products do not require break in, unless the manufacturer specifically says this in their literature. If the product draws with a hitch, do not put it on duty. Only a fool would attempt to modify a duty holster or put the wrong or modified gun int a duty holster.

There is no “second best” in holster design. Buy the best piece of equipment one can buy for one’s training, ability and policy and save money on trivial stuff like coffee mugs.

Finally, and foremost, the minimum times one should draw from a holster going on duty is 500. I recommend several hundred times more, adding several hundred more draws over time. In my own experience, I worked with my duty holster like this for several weeks, until I could draw on autopilot. I was not aware of this until a suspect on a traffic stop had secreted a 9mm between his thighs in a moment of indecision. As he turned his head to see where I was, he bumped his nose on the muzzle of my Glock. This is what I mean by autopilot. I was using a Safariland 2005, by the way.

Gould & Goodrich K-Force Duty holsters are made of a polymer laminate that is hard moulded. This hard shell laminate can be made into any finish, including gloss and matte. Te laminate was pretty rigid, considering the thinness of the material. The holster is lined with a suede-like material, which made the holster very quiet, a quality that is not lost on testing officers with hundreds of subject and traffic stops under their belts.

The sight channel is oversized in this model and the holster body barely touched the gun. Rather, it cradled our Glocks. Dousing or filling the holster with dirt did not alter the draw. Don’t be surprised here. Most products cradle the gun these days.

The K-Force Duty holster uses a lightweight hood, which flips away from a separate lever. The surprising part is the fact that both locking devices disengage by the main latch. A natural draw throws them both off and the gun jumps into the hand.

The Gould & Goodrich K-Force Duty Holster has a unique quality. The hood can be flipped on or off without affecting any aspect of the feel of the product. This differs from the BLACKHAWK! Triple Retention Duty Holster, which requires manually pressing the lever to close the hood. The G&G K-Force Duty Holster received superior marks overall, especially with comments about the short learning curve.

The Gould & Goodrich K-Force Duty Holster came with instructions cautioning against removing the belt loop  from the holster body, which restricts its cant adjustability. This is likely because the springs are assembled into the body by marrying these two parts.

How does an officer force transition from handgun to other tools? With the G&G K-Force Duty Holster, simply dump the gun back in. The latching mechanism is solid enough that we were able to prevent a gun takeaway with the hood off.

The Gould & Goodrich Astro Double Retention Holster looks like a traditional set up with a wraparound thumb break. The holster front presses a spring against the top of the slide, holding it firmly against the pinch retention device for the trigger guard. Thus the draw is forward, then up. This is fairly natural and the combined thumb release motion could be easily trained.

We liked the quality of the Gould & Goodrich Astro Double Retention Holster (B720A), except for one glaring fact. The level 3 Gould & Goodrich K-Force Duty Holster (K391)was faster and easier than the level 2 Gould & Goodrich Astro Double Retention Holster. Don’t feel bad Gould & Goodrich, the Gould & Goodrich K-Force Duty Holster eclipsed most of the holsters in current production in one way or another. 

We tested two models of the BLACKHAWK! Serpa holster; the level 3 retention product, which includes their Pivot Guard device, a hood over the back of the slide, and the SERPA level 2 holster, which has the SERPA locking device and a straight draw.

The design of the SERPA holster, or the SERPA Technology Active Retention Models, is for the user to obtain the master grip on the gun while the trigger. finger rides along side of the holster. The pad of the trigger finger engages the release, which is a latch mechanism that grips the trigger guard.

The SERPA design allows for a very lightweight platform, especially with the injection moulded carbon fiber composite  used in its manufacture.  The lesser bodies are semirigid and allow for mounting on different platforms. If the user wants a jacket slot, high ride or even thigh mount, the SERPA can do it. Probably one of their best mounting options is the fact that the vest carry option is particularly smooth and lightweight.

The latch mechanism is quite strong, able to sustain the grab attempts and subsequent struggle for the gun without problem. It is impervious to water, but the potential for material to get behind the mechanism, locking the gun in or out through a trapped foreign object, exists. We were not, however, able to induce failure, except when we deliberately placed something there.

The SERPA draw is smooth and fast. OK, it’s really fast. The reholster is instinctive, and the device does resemble “active retention”. During live fire, the SERPA was fast and smooth. However, its use made all of us have some reservations. Since one presses one’s trigger finger along the area where the trigger finger naturally rests, one has to train to resist curling the finger into the trigger guard under stress. Frankly, trigger fingers should be reserved for making the gun go bang and writing the report that follows.

The level 3 SERPA ( We specifically used the 44H100BK-R LV3 Duty Serpa) has a hood which fits over the back of the slide, further preventing unauthorized access. A huge treadle removes it, and the simple motion of the thumb acquiring the grip actuates the treadle.

We found that beginning the draw stroke is enough to flip the Pivot Guard, which is the nomenclature for the hood. It was as natural as any holster use and added to the quality and safety of the product. The only criticism of the Pivot Guard we had was the fact that one could not simply close it back onto the gun without pressing the treadle again. It wasn’t exactly a two-handed operation, but closing it was not as natural as opening it. In comparison, the hood on the Gould & Goodrich B720A could be flipped on and off surreptitiously.

Our findings definitely suggested that agency policies that allow officers to select their duty holsters based on parameters, rather than being held to a specific product. Theoretically, this could increase officer safety just because it would be harder to predict which holster an individual officer might be using.

Testing the Safariland  7TS was a little different. We have been using this holster for various tests since it was available earlier in the year. Of the side-by-side shooting tests we did with various holsters, this result is the only one we will share with our readers, simply because I had enough time with it to establish a degree of “muscle memory”.

The Safariland 7TS uses a thumb release, similar to the 511 Tactical Thumb Drive. Both holsters  pop into the hand when released. The Safariland 7TS was especially suited for drawing from a seated position. Like the 511 Tactical Thumb Drive, both holsters can be quickly popped on to the concealed carry belt for off duty/concealed carry use.

How fast is the Safariland 7TS? I drew and fired two center mass shots with it in .86 seconds using my Glock 22 with a Lone Wolf .357 barrel.

The 511 Tactical Thumb Drive came originally from Kyle Lamb’s idea of a holster without complicated levers that offered a degree of retention. He took the idea to Blade-Tech, who collaborated with 511 Tactical in this design. Blade-Tech uses proprietary polymers well known in holster manufacture.

The 511 Tactical Thumb Drive has a removable switch guard called a Chop-Block, which adds a little safety to the level II security of the product. This holster adjusts to three different cants and is cut out in the front for aftermarket optics.

We tested Uncle Mike’s Pro-3 Duty Holster, a lighweight synthetic product with a three point locking system. The Pro-3 has a rigid frame with a flexible body that can mimic any duty finish. It looks, feels and operates like a regular straight draw product, except it has a natural motion retention method.

I don’t have to spend too much time describing the Uncle Mike’s retention system except to share that things an officer would do naturally to retain the gun secures it to the holster, even if it’s unsnapped. I personally have never tried this holster for duty, but it can be learned quickly. I completely understand why officers swear by this product.

There really wasn’t a “best” holster, but our testers had their favorites after the test. Uncle Mike’s  officers only reinforced their preference toward this product. The Pro-3 is excellent for bicycle patrol and general patrol users. The 511 Tactical Thumb drive is a great detective or street crimes unit officer. For general patrol, our testers  recommended the Gould & Goodrich K-Force Duty Holster. I personally was amazed at how secure and fast this holster ran. Finally, Officer Macchia, an experienced SRO, found the Safariland 7TS was so great, he stuck mine into his range bag and texted me about it later.

About the Author

Officer Lindsey Bertomen (ret.), Contributing Editor

Lindsey Bertomen is a retired police officer and retired military small arms trainer. He teaches criminal justice at Hartnell College in Salinas, California, where serves as a POST administrator and firearms instructor. He also teaches civilian firearms classes, enjoys fly fishing, martial arts, and mountain biking. His articles have appeared in print and online for over two decades. 

Sponsored Recommendations

Build Your Real-Time Crime Center

March 19, 2024
A checklist for success

Whitepaper: A New Paradigm in Digital Investigations

July 28, 2023
Modernize your agency’s approach to get ahead of the digital evidence challenge

A New Paradigm in Digital Investigations

June 6, 2023
Modernize your agency’s approach to get ahead of the digital evidence challenge.

Listen to Real-Time Emergency 911 Calls in the Field

Feb. 8, 2023
Discover advanced technology that allows officers in the field to listen to emergency calls from their vehicles in real time and immediately identify the precise location of the...

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of Officer, create an account today!